The Odyssey
Homer
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Book 10-11
Summary

Summary: Book 10

From the land of the Cyclopes, the Achaeans sail to the home of Aeolus, the ruler of the winds. Aeolus gifts Odysseus a bag containing all the winds and raises a westerly wind to guide Odysseus and his crew home. Within ten days, Odysseus and his men are in sight of Ithaca but the shipmates think that Aeolus has secretly given Odysseus a fortune in gold and silver. They open the bag and the winds escape and stir up a storm that brings Odysseus and his men back to Aeolia. Aeolus refuses to help them this time. He is certain that the gods hate Odysseus and wish to do him harm. Since the wind is gone, the Achaeans row to the land of the Laestrygonians, a race of powerful giants whose king, Antiphates, and queen kill Odysseus’ scouts for dinner. Odysseus and his remaining men flee toward their ships, but the Laestrygonians pelt the ships with boulders and sink them as they sit in the harbor. Only Odysseus’ ship escapes and travels to Aeaea, home of the beautiful witch-goddess Circe. Circe drugs a band of Odysseus’ men and turns them into pigs. When Odysseus tries to rescue them, Hermes disguised as a young man tells Odysseus to eat an herb called moly to protect himself from Circe’s drug. He tells Odysseus to lunge at her when she tries to strike him with her sword. Odysseus does exactly he's told to do and overpowers Circe. Odysseus forces her to change his men back to their human forms. Soon he becomes Circe’s lover and they all live together in luxury for a year. When Odysseus' men finally persuade him to continue the voyage homeward, Odysseus asks Circe for the way back to Ithaca. She asks them to sail to Hades, the realm of the dead. There, they should consult the spirit of Tiresias, a blind prophet who will guide them home.

The next morning, Odysseus discovers that the youngest man in his crew, Elpenor, had gotten drunk the previous night and slept on the roof. When he heard the men shouting and marching in the morning, he fell from the roof and broke his neck. Odysseus explains to his men the route which they must take. They are displeased to learn that the route is meandering.

Summary: Book 11

Odysseus travels to River of Ocean in the land of Cimmerians. He pours libations and performs sacrifices as Circe earlier instructs him to do to attract the souls of the dead. Elpenor, the crewman who broke his neck after falling from Circe’s roof, appears first. He pleads with Odysseus to return to Circe’s island and give his body a proper burial. Odysseus then talks with Theban prophet Tiresias, who reveals that Poseidon is punishing the Achaeans for blinding his son Polyphemus. Tiresias foretells Odysseus’ fate. According to him, Odysseus will return home, reclaim his wife and palace from the suitors. He will then make another trip to a distant land to appease Poseidon. Tiresias, however, warns Odysseus not to touch the flocks of the Sun when he reaches the land of Thrinacia, otherwise, he won’t return home without suffering hardships and losing all of his crew. After the Theban prophet is gone, Odysseus speaks with his mother, Anticleia, who informs him about the affairs of Ithaca and how she died of grief waiting for his return. Odysseus then meets the spirits of famous men and heroes.

Later, Odysseus asks his Phaeacian hosts to allow him to sleep, but the king and queen urge him to continue, asking if he met any of the Greeks who fell at Troy in Hades. Odysseus first talks of Agamemnon, who tells him of his murder at the hands of his wife, Clytemnestra. Then, Achilles, who asks about his son, Neoptolemus. Odysseus tries to speak with Ajax but he is reluctant and slips away. Ajax, a famous Achaean, killed himself after he lost a contest with Odysseus over the arms of Achilles.

Odysseus sees Heracles, King Minos and the hunter Orion among others. He witnesses the punishment of Sisyphus, struggling eternally to push a boulder over a hill only to have it roll back down whenever it reaches the top. He sees Tantalus, suffering from hunger and thirst. Tantalus sits in a pool of water overhung by bunches of grapes, but whenever he reaches for grapes, they rise out of grasp, and whenever he bends down to drink, the water goes down a few notches below. Odysseus soon finds himself mobbed by souls wishing to know of their relatives in the world above. Scared, he runs back to his ship and sails away immediately.

Analysis

Book 10 manifests a mortal tendency to succumb to temptation. Just when Odysseus taunts the blinded Polyphemus by boasting about his defeat of the Cyclops, his crew members succumb to the temptation of opening Aeolus’s bag, and their greed prolongs their homeward journey. Odysseus spends one year in the arms of the goddess Circe. His crew too does not seem to mind the delay. Odysseus keeps on enjoying even though his wife is waiting for him. This episode is illustrative of his weak-mindedness. The drunk Elpenor’s death after falling from roof is another instance of overindulgence in personal appetite. It is only when his crew prods him and calls his delays madness, Odysseus relents to leave Circe’s realm (10.519–520).  The crew members’ lukewarm feelings for the place are understandable. They have to suffer the humiliation of being transformed, initially, into pigs and receive no recompense comparable to the love of a goddess. It is for the first time, in Book 10, that we hear the crew criticise its leader.

Even after his crew members have been transformed into pigs, Odysseus refuses to return to Circe’s halls. Eurylochus, a crew member, reproaches Odysseus for foolishly leading his crew to its destruction. He terms the death of his comrades at the hands of Polyphemus as evidence of Odysseus’ imprudence, “Thanks to Odysseus’ rashness they died too!” (10.482). Odysseus checks his anger and restores calm but the unrest shows gaping holes in his authority.

Book 11 gives the reader an extraordinary anthology of mythological lives with the appearance of various heroes and lesser divinities. Homer’s audience would already know of figures such as Heracles, Minos, Achilles, Agamemnon, Sisyphus, and Tantalus. People turned to Homer and other writers for authoritative versions of the Greek myths even in the later ancient period. For the present day reader, these texts provide insight into early Greek mythology. Homer both broadens the scope of his poem and further entrenches his hero in his culture’s mythology by juxtaposing Odysseus’ wanderings to the woes of these legendary figures. Odysseus attains a privileged, transcendent status by gaining an entry to Hades. Odysseus’ conversation with Achilles reveals a nuanced view of warfare and kleos, or glory, which is harder to find in the Iliad.

Achilles’ declaration, “I’d rather slave on earth for another man /... / than rule down here over all the breathless dead,” alludes to his dilemma of choosing between earning glory on the battlefield but dying young and living out a long, uneventful life in the Iliad (11.556–558). The Iliad, which celebrates the glory of warfare, endorses Achilles’ choice of glory over long life. But in Book 11 of the Odyssey Achilles’ lament is a strong caveat to this ethic of kleos. The change in Achilles’ sentiment from one poem to the next is because the Odyssey tends to focuses on characters’ inner lives. Yet, Achilles doesn’t wholly give up the idea of kleos. He turns away from his warrior ethos a bit; still he is happy to hear that his son has become a great warrior. It can, thus, be seen that Kleos has evolved from an accepted cultural value into a more complex and problematic principle. The underworld segment, placed near the very heart of the epic, binds together various settings in the poem. Anticleia recalls those longing for Odysseus in Ithaca. Agamemnon and Achilles take our attention back to Troy. Elpenor connects the past on Circe’s island with the present responsibilities of Odysseus to his crew. Finally, the interruption in Odysseus’ account reminds us of present location — in the palace of the Phaeacians. Apart from this, the interruption has no other function within the context of the plot. It is difficult to understand that Odysseus would want to go to sleep before describing the most important conversations he had in Hades. In fact, he doesn’t go to sleep and narrates his wanderings for another book and a half. The interruption is aesthetically used to break the long first-person narrative into smaller parts

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